Michigan Republicans hope to leverage the state’s open seat to end a nine-cycle losing streak in the chamber

With one month until the filing deadline for primary ballot access in Michigan’s 2024 U.S. Senate race (April 23rd), the state is almost certain to shatter its record for the most candidates vying for the Republican Party nomination.

While some of the dozen announced candidates may yet withdraw from the race before the early August primary, a new party record will be set if even half remain in the race.

Among the candidates running to fill the seat of retiring Democrat Debbie Stabenow are three former U.S. Representatives (Peter Meijer, Justin Amash, Mike Rogers), Ottawa County Commissioner Rebekah Curran, and former U.S. House candidate Sandy Pensler.

Across the state’s 40 U.S. Senate primaries since 1916, the largest number of Republicans to appear on the ballot has been just four – occurring seven times:

  • 1918: Former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Truman Newberry defeated auto maker Henry Ford by 18.0 points
  • 1922: Two-term Senator Charles Townsend beat State Senator Herbert Baker by 6.1 points
  • 1924: Appointed Senator James Couzens defeated federal Judge Arthur Tuttle by 7.2 points
  • 1952: U.S. Representative Charles Porter beat Auditor General John Martin by 23.0 points
  • 1976: U.S. Representative Marvin Esch defeated former State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Brennan by 16.7 points
  • 1982: Former U.S. Representative Philip Ruppe beat former State Senator William Ballenger by 23.7 points
  • 2012: Former U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra defeated former State Board of Education member W. Clark Durant by 20.7 points

Since 1916, the average number of choices Michigan voters have had in Republican U.S. Senate primaries is just 2.0 candidates.

In fact, Republicans have won their party’s U.S. Senate nomination without opposition 15 times: Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1928 special primary, 1928, 1934, 1946), Senator Homer Ferguson (1948, 1954), Senator Charles Potter (1958), Senator Robert Griffin (1966 special primary, 1966, 1972), Senator Spencer Abraham (2000), State Representative Andrew Raczkowski (2002), State Representative Jack Hoogendyk (2008), former Secretary of State Terry Land (2014), and transportation business owner John James (2020).

The 2024 field will also likely best the all-time state record in a U.S. Senate primary – six candidates – occurring on the Democratic side of the ballot in 1978 and 1994.

In 1978, former Detroit City Councilor Carl Levin easily defeated five opponents en route to unseating GOP Senator Robert Griffin.

In 1994’s open seat race following the retirement of Democrat Donald Riegle, U.S. Representative Bob Carr eked out a 0.9-point win against State Senator Lana Pollack with just 24.0 percent of the vote.

Carr still holds the state record for the narrowest victory in a U.S. Senate primary and the smallest plurality-winning support for a nominee.

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  1. Cecil Crusher on March 23, 2024 at 5:45 pm

    – “…nine-cycle losing streak…” Had there been at least 1 special election after the most recent time a Republican won…(a casual reader would really appreciate the explicit mention of the YEAR as well, even if only standing elections had been held)

    – The most recent R victory in Senate election here was not accompanied by a presidential win; likewise, the most recent R presidential win within the state was not accompanied by a Senate victory. Will the party attain simultaneous victories this cycle? (My surmise is the Democrats will at least hold on to the Senate seat with Representative Slotkin, who is one of *4* current or former House members concurrently vying for a rare open-seat bid.)

  2. Daniel Fox on March 24, 2024 at 10:33 am

    I don’t think Sandy Pensler has been a Wayne County commissioner. This Detroit News story says he’s never held a political office.


    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on March 24, 2024 at 10:38 am

      Thanks very much for the note – corrected above. Pensler was a former U.S. House and U.S. Senate candidate but never won political office.

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on March 24, 2024 at 10:44 am

      Many national and local news outlets are calling Pensler a former Wayne County Commissioner, but a brief review of election data (and his own campaign website) does not give any mention of that.

      • Daniel Fox on March 24, 2024 at 4:21 pm

        There are a couple of Wikipedia articles that Identify Pensler as a former county commissioner. I suppose the news outlets you mentioned were relying on Wikipedia. There’s a terrifying thought!

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